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Italy begins crackdown on free speech


1:21 pm - December 15th 2009

by Claude Carpentieri    


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Millions worldwide have cheered the individual action of Massimo Tartaglia, the man who last Sunday whacked Berlusconi in the teeth. A divisive, dodgy, inflammatory right-wing Prime Minister got what he deserved, many commented online.

However, two days later, it’s important to make a cool-headed assessment as to what the blow landed on Berlusconi’s gob really means in the short to medium terms.

Until Sunday, Berlusconi’s coalition were showing their biggest cracks since their landslide election victory in April 2008. His hacking at the Italian constitution caused a series of unexpected rifts within his own coalition. By last week, one of his most senior and influential allies, Gianfranco Fini, was all but considered no longer part of Berlusconi’s coalition.

Most significantly, on Friday, Mr Casini, a former centrist partner of Berlusconi’s government, called for the formation of a broad ‘Republican front’ to finally defeat the billionaire Prime Minister.

And if you also take into account the spectacular sexual scandals that marred the Prime Minister throughout the summer, for the first time in years Silvio Berlusconi looked all but rock steady.

By Sunday evening, however, everything had changed.

They say that agents’ individual actions don’t matter when seen against power structures but look in succession at what Massimo Tartaglia’s smack has done.

Practically every single reluctant ally rejoined the ranks and stood in line at the hospital to bow down before the martyr. The same with opposition MPs. Anxious to make it clear that they don’t condone any violence, they’re all sitting at Berlusconi’s bedside mumbling their concerns.

Their hope, presumably, is to escape the fire of accusations directed at opposition politicians and journalists. “They have been remote-controlling the violence”, wrote Il Giornale, a right-wing daily owned by Berlusconi’s family. The same concept is now the staple at the table of every single government minister. “The opposition turned Berlusconi into an enemy to tear down at all costs”, was the united voice from the government’s ranks.

Which is the background against which Berlusconi’s own Freedom Party announced yesterday they’re beginning legal proceedings for “incitement to crime” against the Prime Minister’s most outspoken critic, opposition MP Antonio Di Pietro.

Most importantly, however, Home Secretary Roberto Maroni from the far-right Northern League announced this morning that the government is about to table emergency measures to ban all Italian websites and online groups that have been openly cheering Sunday’s incident.

“We’re looking at the technicalities”, Mr Maroni said “in order to take down all websites that are echoing what is tantamount to incitement to crime”.

On similar lines, this morning Italy’s biggest daily Corriere della Sera, sported an editorial called ‘The dark side of the web‘, blasting “online hatred” and calling for the prosecution of those guilty of “incitement to hatred” and “glorifying crime”.

In short, two broken teeth and a looming crackdown on freedom of speech. This is what Tartaglia’s action has achieved.

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About the author
Claude is a regular contributor, and blogs more regularly at: Hagley Road to Ladywood
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Europe ,Foreign affairs ,Realpolitik

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Reader comments


Alleged crazy person commits major political outrage with resultant crackdown on (left of centre) political opponents? if it wasn’t for Godwin’s Law I’d argue there were striking parallels in history.

I think it was easy to laugh from our safe distance – I certainly did – but even while we did so I think we all recognised Berlusconi would exploit this for all it’s worth.

I think what we’re forgetting here is that it was quite funny.

A model cathedral, for crying out loud.

At least it missed his genitals.

Oh dear…

A salutary reminder that there really was something to be said for the practice of hanging politicians upside down from a petrol station…

Kinda makes you nostalgic….

Unity – I presume your comment @5 is in jest? If not, I may have to stop disagreeing with you as it might be considered dangerous.

In general, there is a problem with political violence, especially within democracies. It fails to achieve the aim, as it gives legitimacy to the non-violent. If the non-violent are oppresive, it also gives them the ability to supress the violents’ point of view. This would appear to be a case in point. Not quite as good an example as assisinating the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, but a case a point.

Interestingly though, the writer does not condemn the violent act, just the reactions. It might be the lack of thought implied by this judgement that is the problem here, for if people were cheering the anti-Burlesconi sentiment but refusing to condone a crime (I assume it is illegal to assualt people with a model place of worship in Italy) what would the unpleasant reactionaries have to attack with?

Yes, I am indulging in a bit of rueful pisstaking and black humour.

Ah good. The revolution has been postponed for another day then (slightly longer in Italy due to reactionaries on the line).

‘Interestingly though, the writer does not condemn the violent act, just the reactions. It might be the lack of thought implied by this judgement that is the problem here’

In fairness to Claud, he was one of the few anti-Berlisconi voices NOT rejoicing yesterday.

I was half-expecting him to say ‘It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye!’ like a safety-obssessed kill-joy.

He was right though.

Watchman, this may sound a bit abrubt, for which I apologise in advance, but can you be a little less twisted, please? I had to read what you wrote 5 times and I’m still not sure what you’re trying to say.

Amazing how people such as watchmen are getting all strung up about the attack on Berlusconi but saying nothing about the bigger danger from the crackdown on free speech in Italy.

12. the a&e charge nurse

[11] no, I don’t think that’s quite it, Sunny (although I accept your concern about free speech).

LC contributors are divided (broadly speaking) into two camps, and it is THEIR REACTION to the assault, rather than the assault itself, driving recent comments.

Dark humour, or, tacit support of violent methods of protest?

I asked if the reaction would have been quite the same had an unpopular FEMALE leader had her nose or teeth broken – only to be accused by one poster of being a tory ‘hypocrite’ (a prime example of missing the point, surely).

I’m with Claude – I suspect it will be the indefatigable playboy who will end up having the last, and longest laugh?

13. the a&e charge nurse

Incidentally, I think this image is harder to laugh at ……… isn’t it?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/dec/15/silvio-berlusconi-attack-opponents-italy

Why, this thread is full of praise for political violence. What a surprise.

“They say that agents’ individual actions don’t matter when seen against power structures ” – The hokey old folk wisdom of the old country, if the peasants were all Marxist academics..

When police forces kettle protestors for hours at a time, and push an innocent man to his death, the right says that’s not “political violence” but unfortunate accident during difficult circumstances.

When nation states invade other countries, killing many innocent civilians, that’s not “political violence”, but “necessary war” to fight “worse evils”.

When – as Claude has poitned out in the past – the Italian state licenses vigilantism fuelled by extreme right, virtually-fascist organisations, which target ethnic minorities, that’s not “political violence”.

But when one, extremely corrupt, disreputable, misogynistic, lying, cheating, far-right loon gets hit in the face – oh suddenly we have “political violence” which is oh-so reprehensible and pious noises need to be uttered and tut-tutting issued at those who realise that not only did this particular quasi-fascist have it coming, but that political violence is, well, the foundation of all politics. The only difference is who it gets done to and by whom. This time around, the direction of fit was uncharacteristically reversed.

People’s inabiltiy to deal with that is testament only to a naivety about the nature of politics and a bizarrely schizophrenic perspective on the presence of force in political socieites.

Claude’s entirely right: ‘In short, two broken teeth and a looming crackdown on freedom of speech. This is what Tartaglia’s action has achieved.’

And let’s go further. If we approve of this act of violence on a (corrupt, contemptible) rightwinger, which violent acts do we disapprove of? Throwing a heavy object into someone’s face is pretty horrific.

Tartaglia is -apparently- a mentally ill man. Berlusconi is a corrupt and contemptible politician. One of them should be given treatment for his problems. The other should be voted out of power and brought before a court (and not, this time, permitted to wriggle out of his trial).

What we shouldn’t do is applaud this infantile piece of violence.

Political violence in a democracy- which Italy still more or less is, despite Berlusconi’s media manipulation is foul. It empowers those who advocate repression. It encourages more violence, which is the road to fascism. And it has an awfully good chance of killing people, including the most innocent of bystanders.

Not to insult Claude or anyone else of Italian background, but Italy has some dreadful recent experiences with political violence, from both right and left, and we don’t want to go back there.

It’s like the burning down of The Reichstag.

Brownshirts love to play the victim, and use it as a way to take away peoples freedoms.

18. the a&e charge nurse

[15] “But when one, extremely corrupt, disreputable, misogynistic, lying, cheating, far-right loon gets hit in the face – oh suddenly we have “political violence” which is oh-so reprehensible and pious noises need to be uttered”.

Have you joined the 50,000 slavering supporters on Massimo Tartaglia’s Facebook page?
I understand this cathedral-wielding loner managed to convince himself (as well as thousands of others) that Berlusconi was just ‘asking for it’.

Or are you working on your OWN list of British politicos who might benefit from the ‘cathedral’ treatment – after all there is no reason why we cannot attain a similar standard of political discourse as our volatile Italian neighbours, is there?

Obviously you are all now awakening to the fact that Italy already has a regime, that freedom of the press is non existent, and that even Ceucescu when in power could not have dreamed of such supportive, and pro regime TV programs and newspaper editors as those existing nel BelPaese today..

Do you really know what goes on in italian late evening so called news / reportive programs ?
Never mind Santoro – what about the rest ?

Do you realize that this is no longer gaffes by Mr B, nor just another italian mess ?

Something horrible is going on, has been going on – and will soon turn very ugly.

Bernstein and Woodward had it easy if compared to what Marco Travaglio is doing in Italy. And Travaglio does not even need to do investigative journalism.

All he does is check up on written court proceedings / sentences, synthesize them for the understanding of the average italian and explain them as they are.

In the UK, he would be labeled as a standard journalist.
In Italy – he is being labeled as a criminal.

Journalists and comentators worldwide should spend less time on Berlusconi trivia, and take some time to write about the few in Italy who are doing their part to open the eyes of an already blinded-by-tv-propaganda population.
And not once a year, or once a month. Every Day.

P2, stands for Propaganda 2, – in Italy today, there is propaganda everywhere.

Its like writing about the colonialism problems in India 60 years ago – completely ignoring Gandhi.

What point is there – in explaining in almost anything ever published about Berlusconi, that he has control of the italian media without offering daily, hourly examples of what really does happen in italian media ?

And it happens every day in italy. Big brother in your face, lying without shame.

Wake up !

Keyzer Soze

20. Matthew Hopkins

@Paul Sagar
“When police forces kettle protestors for hours at a time, and push an innocent man to his death, the right says that’s not “political violence” but unfortunate accident during difficult circumstances”.

There are plenty of people ‘on the right’ who deplore what happened to protesters at the G20 Summit and feel the police are politically motivated (ie Labour politicos).

Just thought I’d be balanced.

The support for Berlusconi and the lack of the support for the left may have somehting to do with the violence of the 70s. After all , the reason why the Bruni family moved to France was because of the violence of the extreme left in Italy in the early 70s.

What is alarming is that someone like Berlusconi attracts far more support than the the social democrats in Italy. Sunny H has said that Labour in the UK needs to attact the support of small businesses. In taly there are many small family run businesses which appear to favour Berlusconi over the social democrats. I cannot see how support for Berlusconi’s attacker is going to persuade small businesses to suport the left.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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    Things are getting quite scary in #Italy http://bit.ly/4K8a74 The country is unbalanced enough for Sunday's attack 2 spark retaliation chaos

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  10. Patty

    Italian govt to ban all Italian websites&online groups openly cheering Sun incident as 'incitement to crime'. #tcot http://bit.ly/6I4HA1





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